As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Bob Woodward Subscribes To The Progressive Book Club

I'm baffled as to why the Washington Post put this on the front page, and why most other papers referred to it as if Bob Woodward had a Watergate-esque scoop.

The top Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial has concluded that the U.S. military tortured a Saudi national who allegedly planned to participate in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, interrogating him with techniques that included sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, leaving him in a "life-threatening condition."

"We tortured [Mohammed al-]Qahtani," said Susan J. Crawford, in her first interview since being named convening authority of military commissions by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in February 2007. "His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that's why I did not refer the case" for prosecution.

Crawford, a retired judge who served as general counsel for the Army during the Reagan administration and as Pentagon inspector general when Dick Cheney was secretary of defense, is the first senior Bush administration official responsible for reviewing practices at Guantanamo to publicly state that a detainee was tortured.

Al-Qahtani's interrogation logs, clearly showing torture, have been released. TIME Magazine published them over three YEARS ago. Phillippe Sands wrote an entire book about it, Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values. In it, many people unequivocally state that we tortured al-Qahtani.

As for the supposed scoop that Crawford is the first Bush Administration official to admit to torture, um, how about Dick Cheney? CIA Director Michael Hayden? George W. Bush?

There is some news value in Crawford's remarks, on a couple of fronts. She admits that a combination of techniques that were authorized, administered in succession and over a long period of time, can have the same effect as torture. And the fact that she held back military lawyers from prosecuting him because of the torture used underscores what some are calling the difficulty with closing Guantanamo and dealing with the detainees.

The Qahtani case underscores the challenges facing the incoming Obama administration as it seeks to close the controversial detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, including the dilemmas posed by individuals considered too dangerous to release but whose legal status is uncertain. FBI "clean teams," which gather evidence without using information gained during controversial interrogations, have established that Qahtani intended to join the 2001 hijackers. Mohamed Atta, the plot's leader, who died steering American Airlines Flight 11 into the World Trade Center, went to the Orlando airport to meet Qahtani on Aug. 4, 2001, but the young Saudi was denied entry by a suspicious immigration inspector.

"There's no doubt in my mind he would've been on one of those planes had he gained access to the country in August 2001," Crawford said of Qahtani, who remains detained at Guantanamo. "He's a muscle hijacker. . . . He's a very dangerous man. What do you do with him now if you don't charge him and try him? I would be hesitant to say, 'Let him go.' "

These decisions have to made for a relatively small group of individuals, maybe a dozen. And really, the answer is that the government should have thought of this before deciding to torture. As it is, they're going to have to do some investigative work and find the evidence of Al-Qahtani and other suspect's involvement rather than relying on confessions gained through torture. If you can find it, you charge them. If not, you release them. US courts have dealt with hundreds of terrorism trials and have methods for dealing with classified information. The sham military commissions need to stop. They're not even effective in dealing with the suspects they were DESIGNED to adjudicate, as this case shows.

...Omar Khadr's trial is scheduled for a week after Obama's inauguration. Khadr was 15 when he was captured, a child soldier. That military commission cannot go forward. Obama can stop it with the stroke of a pen.

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